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Student union scraps election after president's 'Zionist' comment

Candidates were standing for a role at the University of the West of England's students' union

    Zain Choudry at UWE's students' union (Photo: Twitter)
    Zain Choudry at UWE's students' union (Photo: Twitter)

    A university's students' union has cancelled an election for one of its offices after its president appeared to describe one of candidates as a “very Zionist type person” and urged people to vote for his opponent.

    Candidates were standing for a role on the democratic procedures committee (DPC) at the University of the West of England (UWE).

    The committee oversees the democratic process at the Bristol-based university and has five members responsible for voting on student ideas.

    Voting in the election was due to close tomorrow. However, in screenshots of a message from a Whatsapp group, Zain Choudry, union president, sent what he described as “an urgent call out to all of you".

    “Please vote for Alex to be a member of the DPC instead of this William Bates as he is a very Zionist type person who pushes for Israel flags to be put up outside of the SU [student union] and wants to end the BDS campaign,” Mr Choudry wrote.

    “William is currently the most likely to win, and we cannot tolerate his type of behaviour.”

    The screenshot of the Whatsapp message was shared on social media today, with the student union later issuing a statement saying that “the deputy returning officer has received complaints regarding external conduct within the Democratic Procedures Committee By-Election, which has brought this election into question.

    “After reviewing the situation, the Deputy Returning Officer has taken the decision to end the current election period; this action has been supported by the external Returning Officer. Nominations will open again in December.”

    Student union rules do not allow officers of the union to actively campaign for or against candidates for other offices.

    Speaking to the JC, Mr Bates said that he was “surprised by Zain’s comments”.

    “They [the comments] are an obvious breach of the election rules and the position I was running for had nothing to do with Israel, and so it seems to me that it could be questioned what 'very zionist type of person' means to him here,” he said.

    He added that although he was not Jewish, his campaign “was supported by several Jewish students, which probably led to this.

    “I have no idea where he got the claim regarding Israel flags outside the SU from, although UWE does have a flagpole that flies international flags for various national days and I wouldn't be opposed to that in that context.”

    He also said he believed Mr Choudry “should not continue as SU president as he is no longer in a position to represent all students.

    “The union has cancelled the election due to this, but myself and other students will be making a complaint against the SU president for the content of his comments rather than the fact he broke campaigning rules.”

    Tamara Berens, of the CAMERA on Campus group which monitors statements and reports on Israel, expressed disappointment that Mr Choudry "has not apologised directly to the Jewish community, the majority of which identifies as Zionist."

    She added: We demand he issues a direct apology to William Bates and Jewish students at UWE which acknowledges that Jewish students cannot be separated from Zionism."

    Mr Choudry has been contacted for comment.

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